In line with current defence planning, Operation Corona is as of June staffed by 15 newly deployed companies from both the full-time and Reserve Force to ensure border protection ranging from the apprehension of undocumented persons through to confiscation of stolen vehicles, drugs and other contraband.
The change sees companies from 4, 8 and 21 SA Infantry battalions with 4 Artillery Regiment, SA Army Specialised Infantry Capability (SAASIC) and the Tactical Intelligence Regiment deployed alongside Reserve Force units Prince Alfred Guard, Durban Light Infantry, SA Irish and Regiment Botha on South Africa’s landward borders.
Working patrols, using the recently acquired mobility packages alongside older 4X4 vehicles and on foot, are supported by intelligence and, according to Lieutenant Colonel Piet Paxton, Senior Staff Officer, Operational Communications at SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Joint Operations Division, “every success, no matter how small, is significant”.
This is due to the vast swathes of bush soldiers have to work in and through as they attempt to stem the flow of undocumented people (previously termed “illegal immigrants”), confiscate smuggled goods and other contraband, apprehend known criminals and recover stolen vehicles.
“The soldiers do not have the sophisticated tools available to modern police forces and rely heavily on intelligence and patrolling to do their work,” he said, giving the illustration of three Norinco pistols confiscated in May.
“There are many places stolen weapons can be hidden and it’s a tribute to our soldiers’ training and thinking on their feet that these weapons were confiscated before they could be used in the execution of a crime somewhere in South Africa,” Paxton said.
When it comes to numbers and volumes, soldiers doing Corona duty last month confiscated dagga and dagga plants valued conservatively at R1.12 million; livestock worth R75 000 was recovered and returned to its rightful owners; 35 known criminals were arrested trying to illegally exit South Africa; 21 stolen vehicles were recovered; 1 356 undocumented persons were apprehended and close to R2.6 million worth of contraband in the form of counterfeit trainers and bales of clothing was intercepted before it reached the flea and spaza markets of Gauteng.
“Last year by far the most common commodities soldiers confiscated were cigarettes, liquor and counterfeit clothes and shoes. The pendulum has swung to the stage where cigarettes and liquor confiscated in May was worth just R12 000 of the total R2.59 million contraband soldiers seized,” he said.
The original deployment expansion plan for Operation Corona was for 22 companies in total to be deployed by 2020 along South Africa’s landward borders but this is on hold due to cuts in the defence budget. Indications are the 15 company deployment will remain in force for at least the next two financial cycles.